Saturday, May 2, 2009

Against the Altruist Interpretation of Kant's morality

One Objectivist argument has it that defending Kant against the interpretation of his morality as eee-villl altruism is not good enough. "Pure Kantianism" (whatever that is) is the extreme of eeeee-villl. Regular, everyday, run-of-the-mill altruism cannot even compare to the variation allegedly propounded by Immanuel Kant. So-called "mundane" altruism is only a "minor vice" in contrast with the pure Kantian eee-villl form which goes far, far beyond it.

Such an argument, however, is irrelevant in that there can be, in the Objectivist view, no morality more e-vil than altruism in whatever form. Even if it were the case the Kant completely disconnected morality from real-life concerns and values, he is still an alleged altruist, only he would be (if that were the case) one who is more absolutist in his arguing toward it. This is allegedly not any wishy-washy self-sacrifice Kant is calling for, but all-out, no-holds-barred self-sacrifice (plenty of hyphens included, of course).

Still, altruism is altruism, whether in weak, moderate, or extreme and undiluted form. And in fact, Kantian morality is none of this anyway.

Kant was an Enlightenment supporter of political freedom. Nothing in his metaphysics or morals contradicts this support. It is not logically possible to promote free-will in his morals, basing the existence of this free-will on his metaphysics, and then to promote moral duty and political dictatorship as a result. It is far more likely that his explicit support of political freedom derived from a rational metaphysical basis.

Objectivists will retort that Kant was a supporter of duty over free-will. But it is nothing more than to say that duty - doing the right thing - often requires an effort of will. For example, when you have to get up early in the morning after working a 12-hour shift the day before, you
just don't feel like going back to work for yet another round. But it is something you have to do despite your feelings ("inclinations") against doing it, it requires an effort of will along with an idea of whether following reason (duty) or whim (inclination) is the right thing to do.

For another example, an alcoholic begins to see the damage that drinking is doing to his life (perhaps he has "hit bottom", and so one day he makes a heroic effort to put that beer back in the refrigerator without opening it; the next day, he opens it but, with another effort
of will, he takes the next step and drains the entire thing down the sink.

That is what Kant means when he says the will is free, the will is not in the service of any inclinations, not even the inclination to be happy, even if this happiness is based on the most rational, or better, prudent principles in the world. The will is not a slave to the natural inclination to be happy either. If happiness results as a matter of course, then that is the "icing" on the moral "cake," it is not denounced in Kantian moral theory at all. And Kant would argue
that following the CI is the only rational way to support the attainment of happiness at least indirectly through doing one's duty to morality, synonymous with doing a service to oneself and not as an altruist serving only others above and beyond the self.

Regarding this last, the CI of humanity says that "we should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity, whether in ourselves or in others, as a means only but always as an end in itself." This means that you do not treat even yourself as a thing to be used for other
ends, at least, not as a sole principle, but that you are an end in itself, or at least the humanity within you which is the essence of your being.

Where Rand states that man's life qua man is an end in itself, Kant states that Humanity, whether in yourself or others, is a moral end in itself. This connection has been made many times before, but many other elements of their respective moralities differ so substantially
and in so many regards that most people will agree that the similarity ends here. I can only say that they were also in agreement regarding the issue of "whim," although Kant called the same concept by the term "inclination."

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